Dos Santos, Savarese set for first MLS battle after long history in NASL

Dos Santos - Savarese - split screen

VANCOUVER, BC – Marc Dos Santos received a number of congratulatory messages after he won his first match as a Major League Soccer head coach last month against LAFC. And one of the very first ones came from his counterpart at Portland Timbers.

It was a small gesture, but one that speaks to the relationship and level of respect that exists between Dos Santos and Timbers’ boss Giovanni Savarese, who have a history that dates back to 2014.  

The two coaches have faced each other 12 times in the North American Soccer League between Dos Santos’ stints with Ottawa Fury FC and San Francisco Deltas and Savarese’s time with New York Cosmos. And that includes a pair of meetings in the NASL Championship Final.

In 2015, Savarese’s Cosmos defeated Dos Santos’ Fury 3-2 to lift the Soccer Bowl.

But Dos Santos got his revenge two years later, leading the expansion Deltas to a 2-0 win over Savarese and the Cosmos in the 2017 NASL Championship Final.

They both made the jump to MLS the following year, with Savarese taking the helm in Portland and Dos Santos moving to LAFC, where he would serve as an assistant to Bob Bradley for one season before joining Whitecaps FC last November.  

As two of the top, up-and-coming coaches in the North American soccer system, Dos Santos and Savarese could have ended up anywhere. But they both landed in the Pacific Northwest, and they face each other for the first time in MLS on Friday as the ‘Caps host Portland at BC Place (7 p.m. PT on TSN1 - tickets still available). 

“It’s special that it’s Vancouver and Portland,” said Dos Santos, adding that he considers Savarese a friend. “We could have been coaching any other teams. To be Vancouver and Portland – that it’s such a rivalry, me being on one side and Gio on the other – it’s quite special.”

Savarese, for his part, called Dos Santos a "quality coach" and one he knew would land in MLS sooner rather than later. 

"I think he’s doing a great job," Savarese said. "First of all, he changed the roster, which you can clearly see ... There’s no question they needed time. It’s not easy to turn things around and change. Every game they become better and better, so we have a good challenge on Friday."

Both teams enter Friday’s match in fine form, with the Timbers riding a three-match wining streak and the ‘Caps having lost just one of their last five outings. With a win on Friday, Vancouver would leapfrog Portland in the always-congested Western Conference standings and potentially move into a playoff spot if other results fall in their favour.

Regardless of the result, there will be a bottle of wine awaiting Savarese in his locker room.

At some point along the road, Dos Santos said he and Savarese started gifting each other bottles of wine whenever they coach against each other – the visiting coach always being the recipient. And that’s a tradition Dos Santos intends to continue on Friday, despite the fact that the visiting coach never seems to be entirely satisfied.

“When I’m home, I make sure that in his locker room there’s good wine,” Dos Santos said. “I have to say that his choice of wine, I don’t know if it travels too much. I’m always challenging him for better.”

"Now his selection might be a bit better because he has an Italian on his staff," Savarese countered. "So I expect things to be a little bit better. We’ll see."